Don Lemon really did his best to bury the lede during his interview this week with a black minister who went to the White House.
The Rev. Bill Owens, founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, appeared on the CNN host’s show Thursday night. And rather than talk about any number of his experiences and accomplishments with inner-city youth, Lemon tried to coax Owens into calling President Donald Trump a racist.
Lemon tried on several occasions to get Owens to say something bad about the president, but the pastor never took the bait. Clearly frustrated by his unwillingness to agree with Lemon that Trump is a racist, the anchor then ambushed Owens.
“You’ve said some controversial things before. In 2012, you equated President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage to supporting child molestation. You later walked that back,” Lemon said, coming out of left field. “But that in itself is an outrageous statement — why should anyone take you seriously?”
Owens shot back, telling Lemon repeatedly he has “never said that.”
But it didn’t matter. Lemon’s motives were nefarious: the entire interview was a setup designed to take down Owens. As The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams pointed out, at the exact moment Lemon, who is gay, asked Owens about same-sex marriage, the chyron switched from referring to the minister as a “faith leader” to a “controversial African-American pastor.”
This entire situation reveals the dastardly reality of our media culture. It has been intentionally created to foment hatred and anger. Had Owens called Trump a racist, it’s likely Lemon never would have brought up his seven-year-old comment. But he didn’t, so he had to pay the consequences.
At one point during the interview, the good pastor tried to explain to Lemon he is used to facing criticism and going against the grain, explaining his harrowing efforts to help minority students enroll in a predominantly white university. But the CNN host was not at all interested, smugly dismissing his benevolence.
“I appreciate you giving me your biography,” Lemon rudely charged, “[but] what does that have to do with this president?”
Owens told Lemon, “I am trying to help our young people.”
But in American culture, nothing sells quite like sex and racism, and Lemon — as well as our entertainment and news executives — knows it. So rather than talk about Owens’ rise from poverty to founding a ministry empowering minority youth to meeting with the president of the United States in the White House, Lemon had a singular interest: fomenting hatred.
Unfortunately, Lemon is hardly alone.
We saw our media throw up its arms when a hopeful racial story made its way to the silver screen last year in the form of “Green Book,” a highly popular comedic drama based on the true experiences of Don Shirley, a jazz pianist who toured the deep south with his driver Frank Vallelonga, an Italian American bouncer who also served as the accomplished musician’s bodyguard.
Though the movie, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, told the tragic story of racism in America, woven throughout its narrative was a thread of hope — a picture of what our culture is capable of when we see and celebrate our shared human experience and learn to tolerate one another’s differences.
But rather than embrace the movie and its hopefulness, Hollywood — which produced the movie — quickly washed its hands of it. Spike Lee was angry his darker, racially charged movie “BlacKKKlansman” didn’t take home the top Oscar prize and now Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah is using the backlash over the award-winning movie to promote “The Daily Show.”
“Don’t ‘Green Book’ this one, guys,” reads a Comedy Central billboard in Los Angeles and New York.
Our media is hellbent toward highlighting the negative and putting a spotlight on our division. Just like so many in Tinseltown demonized “Green Book” for daring to inspire unity, Lemon punished Owens for even sharing space with the president.
As long as we keep burying the lede — as long as we continue to feed the demons that continue to divide us — our society’s ills will only get worse. Lemon had the opportunity to inspire positivity and celebrate unity, but, just like so many around him, the CNN host let himself get in the way.